Travis Head smashed a century to put Australia in command against India on the first day of the World Test Championship final at The Oval.
With 146 not out from 156 balls, the left-hander, who was named series player in the previous Ashes, provided as a reminder of his talent ahead of this summer’s clash against England.
Head shared an unbroken 251-run stand with Steve Smith, who seemed in command for his unbeaten 95. The fourth-wicket partnership helped Australia reach 327-3 at the end.
India, who were defeated in the first Test Championship final two years ago, chose to bowl first on a green surface under a grey sky, reducing Australia to 76-3.
However, as the batting conditions improved, India’s back-up seamers were unable to counter the threat of the new-ball bowlers, and Rohit Sharma’s team may regret not including off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin.
On Thursday, India will bat with a ball that is less than five overs old. They must strike quickly or face being thrown out of the final.
How Day One at The Oval Played Out
Australia emerges on a memorable day
This was an exciting day of Test cricket, with the two best sides from the previous two years facing off in changing conditions.
Even though it was difficult to blame India for wanting to bowl first, Australia may have won the toss because the pitch offered less movement and more regular bounce after lunch.
Despite this, Australia had to work hard to be in a position to cash in, especially against some excellent new-ball bowling from Mohammed Shami and Mohammed Siraj – the second-wicket partnership of 69 between David Warner and Marnus Labuschagne was really significant.
Labuschagne engaged in an exciting bout with Siraj, while Head later clashed with Ravindra Jadeja’s left-arm spin and was put to the test by a torrent of short bowling in the 90s. These cut-and-thrust tussles guaranteed frequent entertainment for a boisterous but under-capacity audience that trailed India.
The tour of Australia begins and ends at The Oval. Though there is a substantial prize on offer, their performance will be placed in the perspective of the upcoming Ashes battle.
Australia demonstrated on the first day of their six Tests between now and the end of July why they will provide such a strong test against Ben Stokes’ England.
Travball is played by Head.
Head had Travball before England had Bazball – he was the leading runscorer during the past Ashes, scoring at 86 runs per 100 balls.
Head struck back-to-back boundaries from the fifth and sixth balls he faced and scored briskly from then on, arriving just after lunch with Australia in a difficult situation.
Head played cuts and drives, as well as a ramp off Shami for six points, but he barely got a run down the field. Despite being bothered by the bumper bombardment, Head completely deserved his sixth Test century.
Head overtook and outperformed Smith, who battled at first with fluidity before putting England on notice that he is ready for another gluttonous Ashes series.
This was classic Smith, an innings in which his batting seemed both erratic and impenetrable. Deliveries wide of off stump were moved into the leg side, and anything on the pads was consumed.
Smith’s 31st Test century had to wait because of the second new ball and a lack of strike late in the day. On Thursday, he’ll be looking for something considerably bigger due to his unquenchable desire for runs.
Is India repeating the Ashwin error?
Last summer, India faced a similar dilemma, playing a one-off Test to wrap up a series against England from the previous year. On that occasion, they omitted Ashwin, the world’s top bowler, and suffered the price.
Perhaps they are still haunted by the last Championship final, in which they partnered Ashwin with Jadeja and lost to New Zealand in 2021.
Shardul Thakur, a seam-bowling all-rounder, was chosen over Ashwin. Despite having Warner caught down the leg side, Thakur and fellow fast bowler Umesh Yadav were not like as effective as Shami and Siraj. Jasprit Bumrah, who was injured, was sorely missed.
India has not won a major tournament in ten years, and if Australia continues in this vein until Thursday, victory in this final may be out of reach.
Even though a reserve day has been arranged, it will not be used if there are five full days of play. The championship will be shared if the match is drawn. That may be the best India can aspire for without early wickets on day two.
‘Australia have dominated,’ says Australia batter Steve Smith on BBC Test Match Special: “A fantastic day. We got off to a good start. Heady [Travis Head] and I then simply cashed in on it. Travis played with purpose and applied pressure. I just sat at the other end and played second fiddle.”
“I always love batting with Steve [Smith],” Australia batsman Travis Head said on Sky Sports. Because he’s so unusual, you should make preparations to bowl to him. You say he was second fiddle, but I always feel second fiddle to him.
“It was difficult with both new balls.” We want to play strong, positive cricket and put them under pressure tomorrow.”
“Australia has had an interesting preparation for this match,” says former Australia batsman Justin Langer on Test Match Special. Some were competing in the Indian Premier League, while others were back in the nets in Australia. There were no warm-up games. So they were maybe a little anxious and rusty, but they dominated.”